Friday, March 30, 2012

The Natural Sinus Remedy System

The American Journal of Medicine estimates that Americans suffer at least 24 million cases of sinusitis each year. Many of these end up being treated by antibiotics, which can lead to the development of superbugs.  There is also concern about antibiotics harming your body's beneficial bacteria, and impeding digestion.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses many techniques to treat conditions related to mucous production, including diet therapy.  Food recommendations depend on the cause of the sinus problem. Here are a few of the recommendations by the TCM diagnosis.

Phlegm/Damp Congestion: Sometimes a person simply makes too much mucus, or is overly sensitive to foods and weather conditions that cause mucus. People with phlegm congestion may also be achy all over, especially in their sinus area, with a feeling of heaviness or even vertigo. Their tongue usually is swollen or has a greasy white or yellow coating.
Chinese medicine sees this condition as analogous to having a swamp in your body. Like a swamp, the extra water that does not flow properly becomes a hotbed for bacteria to grow, increasing the risk of infection. It is common for people with phlegm or damp congestion to also have recurring yeast infections, skin rashes, or other problems associated with fungus or bacteria having a field day in your system.

Avoiding dairy and soy, minimizing the use of eggs, fatty foods, and large amounts of starches, including beans will minimize the raw materials necessary to overproduce mucus.  Eating more broth-based soups gives your body extra water to "flush out" the excess mucus. Look for soups containing barley, mushrooms, chicken, garlic, and slightly sweet vegetables like squash and carrots.  Bitter melon, a vegetable available in Asian markets, is specifically good for phlegm. Such soups are easy to digest, and have anti-inflammatory properties. 

Cold:  If your sinus problems are related to cold you will have mostly clear, copious mucus.   People with cold-type sinus problems may also be achy, but are less likely to feel vertigo, and often tear up in cold weather or wind.  

The predominance of cold can originate from a problem with your body heating properly (such as for people with thyroid disorders), or be due to too much exposure to cold. Cold food and not dressing warmly enough for weather conditions make it hard for your body to process toxins well.

Warming foods help cold-related sinus issues. Eat a little more spicy food, such as horseradish, and cayenne pepper, or milder ones such as ginger, garlic, and cinnamon, to open the sinuses.  Sweet vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and parsnips warm the digestion so the stomach can “transform phlegm,” as we say in TCM. While not "warming," all citrus is considered good for treating phlegm. You can have it in the form of fresh fruit, teas with citrus peel as an ingredient, or by incorporating citrus zest and juice in cooking.

Avoiding cold foods and drinks is critical in this case. Have soup instead of salads, hot tea instead of cold beverages, and especially avoid cold creamy foods like ice cream or cold tofu salads or soy or nut milks. If you feel cold, have a cup of hot tea, especially a chai or spice tea.

Wear warming clothes. If you have chronic sinus issues, dress a little warmer than you feel is necessary. Sometimes something as simple as wearing a scarf will give your body the support it needs to improve your mucus issues.

Dryness: Dryness related sinus problems will feature a dry nose, mouth, skin, eyes, hair, and nails. Usually a "dry" person will feel constant thirst, but not always.  The mucus tends to be scanty and sticky, but this type of sinus issue may be more prone to infection because the mucus is less able to circulate out of the body.  If you have a Dryness condition, you may also get itchy easily, and get dry red rashes. 

Increasing beneficial fat in the diet often helps.  A diet rich in olive oil, butter, yogurt, nuts and nut butters, and avocado provides extra lubrication to your sinuses. Be sure to get plenty of liquid from broth-based soups (mentioned above), and drinking extra water.  Avoid caffeine, minimizing starches, especially processed starches  in flavored chips, or pre-packaged foods. Preservatives are dehydrating because they require your body to do extra work to process the chemicals, requiring extra water.

Heat: Like dryness, heat-aggravated sinus problems rarely have copious mucus. They are most likely to lead to sinus infections. The mucus will have some color to it, usually becoming green with severe infection.  Not surprisingly, people with heat problems often feel hot, and will have a red face. They are also often restless and irritable, or have difficulty sleeping.

Although treating for heat, food should still be served warm to allow quick and easy digestion. Leafy greens, rhubarb, cucumbers (served slightly steamed), mint or green tea, lemon or lime juice, and berries cool the body. Surprisingly, many people find they feel cooler overall when they drink warm water, because their bodies do not have to "turn up the thermostat" to process the cold water.

Emphasize steaming food over baking or grilling, and incorporate any cooking liquid from vegetables into the meal to avoid adding extra heat into your system. Avoid fried or greasy food, but small amounts of nuts, olive oil or avocado can be beneficial. Completely avoid spicy peppers, as these will aggravate heat. 

Qi Stagnation: Stress is the main trigger for flare ups in this presentation related to energy blockage. Qi relates to the free flow of nerve signals, blood, lymph, water, and emotional ease. When qi is blocked, you feel frustrated easily, and are prone to wandering pains, general irritability, inability to handle frustration, and PMS symptoms. Sinus symptoms may come and go with little relationship to food, allergens, and even the medications used for treatment.

Foods to treat qi stagnation give your digestion a break until the stress response settles down.  Sour foods are useful, including vinegar, citrus, and bamboo shoots. Having frequent small meals rather than three large ones helps your body process foods while dealing with stress. Eating simple food with no preservatives, with an extra emphasis on vegetables over all other food groups also encourages qi movement and clears blockages.

These tips may seem a little complicated. Health is rarely a one-size-fits-all proposition, and doing a little extra work to give your body what it needs will pay off in the long run. Take a look at your sinus issues, and if you have trouble deciding which symptoms best fit you, drop me an email or leave a comment. I'll be happy to help!


  1. My daughter who is 13 has had phlegm for the past month and she's not sick but she has been complaining of being tired and achy all over. The doctors can't find anything wrong with her. They have tested everything and I just don't know what else to do. Please help!

    1. Thank you for your comment! I strongly recommend finding a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac) near you who is well trained in herbal therapy as well as acupuncture. You can find a properly credentialed acupuncturist at Sometimes symptoms like your daughters come from what we call Dampness, or Phlegm-Dampness. Herbs and acupuncture will often make a huge difference in just a few weeks. I was like that when I was a child, too. The improvement I experienced when I got acupuncture as an adult was part of the reason I became an acupuncturist.


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